It wasn't until my last employment stop that I learned where bullying begins. I watched in a weird kind of horror and fascination as a 300 pound obnoxiously loud teacher terrorized her students with the blessing of the President of the college. She battled with nearly everyone else around her as well, including a short fracas with me that ended in an complaint after the third time she told me "you know how you Muslim men are" and the tenth time she called a fellow Muslim "Chemical Ali the terrorist." I lost the complaint (evidently these things are ok in that part of the world or with the school or both), but she steered clear of me from that point on.
I saw her humiliate the young people she was charged to educate and protect, and her colleagues told me she liked to reduce her students to tears. As a single woman with no children, she was an expert in everything including marriage and child-rearing. She took great pleasure in leaving her classroom door open as the bellowed at her students, knowing that nearly everyone in the building had to hear her. Nearly every student complaint was stifled by her friend the Dean, and those that reached higher fell on deaf ears - the same mouths connected to those ears told people like me that students came first and that they were upset that legitimate complaints never made it to their ears (ears that were only a few hundred feet away physically but a few hundred thousand compassionately).
And no, this post isn't about her - she is just a recent and stark example of a bully tolerated in the one place she should be shunned. Teachers teach us to bully. Not all, not most, not many, but enough. It is bad enough that these bullies exist in places like this, but the real sin is the number of peers who duck and thank someone the animosity isn't directed at them. Presidents, PhDs, Provosts, and Professors turn the other way while secretaries and part-time staff seem to be the only folks around with the courage or fortitude to stand up and protect the students the rest of us use as literary license for our own petty provincial desires. Not very glamorous, this industry of intimidation of ours!
I have been a bully too, at school and at home. I have used the inequity of my power in ways that were not ethical and did not benefit my students or my children. I suppose I have bullied staff too, but those lines are far more clear, and oddly much better defended.
As teachers and parents we are to lead this war on bullying perhaps a stage too late in its development. And its territory is expanding into politics and religion - combatants on the same side downing out each other in animus and abandoning collaboration for strategic collusion. We bully with volume, we bully with intellect, and we bully with the exploitation of fear. I am not sure where kids aren't learning how to bully anymore.
I will work on my own house - understanding that I have more power and influence than I have ever had, and I hope to balance it with wisdom and compassion. I have the ability to touch thousands of lives in my job, and to perhaps draw up a different kind of blueprint. I will fight the bully in me, and like those brave staff members I have known, will fight those bullies who frighten me as well. I just don't have the stomach for this kind of cowardice anymore.